Meanwhile in the Subway is a poster with a big promise.

“Meanwhile, in the Subway” (MitS) revels in immensity. In print, you’re looking at a ninety by sixty centimeter poster. If you’re American like me, let me save you the trouble of googling that and tell you that it’s thirty-five by twenty-three inches, or three feet by two feet. Bigger than the mostly-useless maps that come folded inside the case of your favorite video game.

On the phone, you’ll find yourself pinching and pulling and sliding along the many-colored lines of this interconnected subway map, reading prompts, finding a job, and making your character. On my PC I had an easier time, but it’s amazing how you can reproduce the play of a gigantic map even on a tablet or smartphone. Your friends and you all gathered on a discord call, telling each other where to scroll as you’re zoomed in far enough to read it. The physicality of the project isn’t lost when you forgo the tactile format.

The project is created by two French creators; Côme Martin, who handled the writing, and Nicolas Folliot, who handled the layout. I had been aware of them from a scattering of projects (Friends in Striped Clothes and Shiny Armor, IN-DIE ZINE) but not particularly familiar with either of them. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t speak French and so am not in-the-know when it comes to the French TTRPG scene, let alone the French indie scene.

But they were so kind as to release an english-speaking version and in doing so they’ve caught me. I hope it catches many others as well. The project is unique in its experimentation and should be looked at and studied for that alone. Playing with the form and even turning the form itself into play is something to be admired and learned from.

The mechanisms behind MitS are simplistic enough that you could pick up the map without reading them and be fine. In fact, reading them might confuse or complicate what is actually a creative system for character creation. Anywhere you point on the map is close enough to each of the colored lines that generation is as simple as dropping a die, or spinning in circles and slamming your finger down, or scrolling wildly and stopping on one hyper-zoomed-in section. Collecting one thing from each line might prove challenging as each one offers you interesting possibilities for your soon-to-be character.

On the flip side, it’s when the poster tries to be a system that things become confusing. It asks you to interpret symbols (words) to determine actions and their outcomes, which seems rather poetic but in practice feels like it would be easier to just flip a coin or roll a dice. 

And where the character creation is suitably surreal and useful, the subway map functions much better when you ignore the side-text and explanations. Looking at the map answers the question of “how do I use this?” It creates a rhythm that opens you up to the possibilities. The train is stuck because. An odd detail of the station is. Around here you can find this weird person. Suddenly, something surreal happens forcing you to act. And lastly, an unforeseeable event that complicates things. That’s a session of tabletop gaming right there.

Overall, if you’re running a more surreal game, or even a science fantasy game, MitS is a great tool to have in your back pocket for on-the-spot NPCs and weird travel events. It’s great for poster hoarders and subway enthusiasts. And while it may need some editing, it’s made by two folks and only costs twelve U.S. dollars. I don’t know if you buy posters a lot, but for one that has function and form? That’s a steal.


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